Robert Farley and D'Angelo Gore, FactCheck.org
We are still reviewing the 21-hour, overnight talk-a-thon by Sen. Ted Cruz, and we found some more claims about Obamacare that are false:
• Cruz said unions, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, want to "repeal" the health care law "because it is a nightmare." Three unions used the word "nightmare" in a letter to Democratic leaders in Congress. But they asked that the law be fixed, not repealed.
• Sen. Rand Paul incorrectly claimed "you will go to jail" if you don't buy health insurance and refuse to pay the tax penalty. The law specifically states that those who do not pay the penalty "shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution." Shortly after the law passed, the IRS commissioner at the time said the law precludes jail, but violators will likely face offsets against future tax refunds.
The lengthy speech by Cruz - which started Sept. 24, ended Sept. 25 and was occasionally supplemented by some of his Senate colleagues - was dominated mainly by generalities and opinions. But we found plenty of misleading claims in our first review of the record. Upon closer inspection, we've found a few more.
FACT CHECK: Who's telling the truth about Obamacare?
UNIONS WANT TO 'REPEAL' OBAMACARE?
Cruz said unions, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, want to "repeal" the health care law "because it is a nightmare." Three unions used the word "nightmare" in a letter to Democratic leaders in Congress. But they asked that the law be fixed, not repealed. James P. Hoffa, the Teamsters president, has asked Cruz to stop "misusing" the unions' words.
Cruz, Sept. 24:There is a reason why labor unions want out. There is a reason the Teamsters, who describe that they have been knocking on doors as loyal foot soldiers for the Democratic Party, are saying: This is a nightmare. Repeal Obamacare. Repeal it because it is a nightmare.
Presidents of three labor unions criticized parts of the health care law in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The union leaders said the law had "unintended consequences" that will lead to several "nightmare scenarios." They complained the law will "destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week" by creating incentives for employers to schedule workers for less than 30 hours a week. And they said the law taxes union workers with nonprofit health insurance plans to help pay for government subsidies those workers will not be eligible to receive.
But the letter didn't say lawmakers should "repeal" the law. Hoffa, Joseph Hansen of the United Food and Commercial Workers, and D. Taylor of UNITE HERE said they "continue to stand behind real health care reform, but the law as it stands will hurt millions of Americans including the members of our respective unions." In conclusion, they wrote: "We are looking to you to make sure these changes are made."
On the same day that Cruz concluded his floor speech, Hoffa issued a statement telling the senator to stop misrepresenting what he and the other union presidents had said.
Hoffa, Sept. 25: Though we may have concerns with specific provisions of the ACA, we share the president's goal of ensuring that every American has affordable access to top-quality health care. It is on this main point that we disagree wholeheartedly with the efforts of extreme right-wing Republicans to gut the ACA. Any suggestion otherwise is simply political posturing.
I call on Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. David Vitter and others to cease and desist from misusing our constructive comments in their destructive campaign to hobble the president and the nation.
Cruz didn't listen. He was back to using the words of Hoffa and company in a speech on the Senate floor on Sept. 27.
BUY INSURANCE / PAY PENALTY / OR JAIL?
For his part, Paul incorrectly claimed that people who do not buy health insurance next year and refuse to pay the tax penalty "will go to jail." The law specifically states that those who do not pay the tax penalty "shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution." In 2010, then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said the law precludes jail, and that enforcement will amount to offsets against future tax refunds.
But, according to Paul, jail is exactly what awaits those who refuse to buy insurance or pay the tax penalty.
Paul, Sept. 25: That is what I think the senator from Texas has started, hopefully a rebellion against coercion, rebellion against mandates, a rebellion against everything that says that big government wants to shove something down your throat, they say take it or we will put people in jail. People say we aren't going to put anybody in jail. The heck they won't. You will get fined first. If you don't pay your fines, you will go to jail.
As we have written before, the law specifically precludes jail as a penalty for those who do not pay the fine for failing to buy insurance. It is spelled out in a section called "Waiver of Criminal Penalties." (See page 131)
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: In the case of any failure by a taxpayer to timely pay any penalty imposed by this section, such taxpayer shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty with respect to such failure.
The law also spells out that the IRS can't use liens or levies as enforcement tools.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: The Secretary [of Health and Human Services] shall not file notice of lien with respect to any property of a taxpayer by reason of any failure to pay the penalty imposed by this section ... or levy on any such property with respect to such failure.
So what exactly can the IRS do if people refuse to pay the tax penalty for non-compliance? Nasty letters, for starters, but ultimately the IRS says it would deduct the penalty amount from a person's future refunds, if the individual has any.
The IRS commissioner at the time was asked about enforcement options at a National Press Club event on April 5, 2010 (at the 35:50 mark).
Shulman, April 5, 2010:I think there's a couple important points that I would make, though, about our role in health reform. One is that these are not the kinds of things - check the box whether you're here or not [whether you have bought insurance] - that we send agents out about. These are things where you get a letter from us. Second is Congress was very careful to make sure that there was nothing too punitive in this bill. ... First of all, there's no criminal sanctions for not paying this, and there's no ability to levy a bank account or do seizures, some of the other tools.
Later in the same event, Shulman was asked, "If you can't use sanctions to collect health care fees, what will keep people from getting away with not signing up for insurance coverage?" Shulman said the IRS may dock future tax refunds.
Shulman, April 5, 2010: My belief is while some people may play with the kind of question that was asked, the vast majority of American people have a healthy respect for the law and want to be compliant with their tax obligations and whatever else the law holds. People will get letters from us. We can actually do collection if need be. People can get offsets of their tax returns in future years, so there's a variety of ways for us to focus on things like fraud, things like abuse, and we're gonna run a balanced program.
In short, Paul's warning about health insurance scofflaws going to jail is simply incorrect.